This cigarette is unusually good. Now I know what you’re saying to yourself; what is an educated doctor, a surgeon, doing smoking in the Year of Our Lord, 2035? Well, let me put it to you this way, there is enough particulate matter raining down all over Los Angeles to equal roughly a pack of cigarettes each hour for every man, woman, and child living in this urban scarred desert. And the attendant arteriole plaque is a way of life for your average Angelino.
Reginald Kenneth here. Doctor… well formerly, depending how you look at it. Shut up about the name… I know it was Elton John’s given name. But he’s dead now so I think I can claim rightful title to it. I know, don’t worry… we still have the virtual EJ. In fact you can take your pick from the young, svelt, slightly balding high energy sequined rock star or the aging fat fingered Orson Welles sized version, both holograms, very good sims, and still performing in Vegas. The algorithms have duplicated every nuance of his style enabling virtuoso improvisation. But he’s not as popular as he used to be, so they pair him up with Naomi Nemesis. She’s young, Afro/Arab/Asiatic… I mean the designers just had a pixel orgy. They have no sense of limitations. They just throw everything in nowadays. (Let me ask you how many penthouses does a virtual hermaphrodite rock star need anyway???) She’s (yeah, by the way I’m 35, a little old fashioned, so I don’t go out for all that slang “anyay..” that is not a fucking word!) tops with the kids and I must admit I kinda like her. I guess single – or widowed in my case – 30-something males fit her target demo, too.
I’m thirty five, actually. That puts me born in Y2K, September 23 right on the cusp of Libra. I was actually conceived at Leonardo DiCaprio’s new-years-eve bash (1999/2000) in the bathroom of a Spanish mission type mansion in Silverlake he had rented for the occasion. Afterward my dad, who was twisted on ecstasy, got naked and did yoga in the bedroom or someplace. The story goes DiCaprio and several of his friends walked in, found him completely naked, folded in half on the floor, and had him tossed out. Embarrassing, but fun if you knew my father who was a cut-up, a Hollywood script doctor who always worked on other peoples’ screenplays and never originated anything.
Everybody calls me Reg. I was one of those bright kids who graduated 2 years before everybody else. No my parents didn’t have me modified. I was born too early for that. I just had the gift. Something extra in the genes, an expression that lifted because my mother force fed me organic vegetables and never allowed me to eat sugar or meat or any of the other crap kids ate like McDonalds or Burger King. “Supersize this,” right! I’m just glad they didn’t try to make me into a girl.
I got into UCLA, finished the lightning round with a major in human physiology. Went to medical school afterward and became a surgeon, meat cutter; sewing blown up arteries, installing stents, and experimenting with tissue regeneration when the time was right. But none of that counted. At least not as far as I could count.
The world has changed a lot, I guess you’d say. Now it’s all fuck you and get out of my way, the mad scramble to stay alive, to get paid, to keep everything on the table, cards, roof, refrigerator and all. There’s the feeling that at any minute the whole world could just unwind into one convoluted spaghetti string of iron wire which you will never untangle, no matter how many engineers you throw at the problem.
I dunno. I’ve always been lucky I guess. I never had to worry. My father the script doctor always got paid, and never griped when the Guild went on strike. My mother the psychiatrist made enough making her high priced trophy wife friends feel better about themselves and their latest breast implants, tummy tucks, and nose rings while shelling out prescriptions for Xanax and anti-depressants along with coupons for massages from Bronzed WEHO boyz who they paid just enough to feel good about masturbating a middle aged hippy housewife trust fund baby with fake boobs who liked drugs. I lived a carefree existence with my Mexican nanny, and private school. I never needed the parents as much as they didn’t need me. We got along amiably. They each had a great sense of humor when I told them I never wanted to see them again and ponied up immediately to pay for college. Not that I needed it.
But that was almost 20 years ago. Right about time the first PopLaws went into effect. Right about the time the whole world took a giant shit on itself.
I’ve been driving around this fucking block, East 20th and 22nd off South Alameda near the train tracks. Alejandro’s Meat Company, a refrigerated butcher complex run by the mob. Cows, pigs… no pollo, just the hooved varieties. The flat roofed brick and metal exterior juts roughly out of the cracked pavement, and the few bushes at the entrance are choking on fumes. I should have studied a map. The road makes a loop around the facility – easy for me to get blocked in if the authorities get wind of what I’m doing. But they won’t. Everybody’s in on what I do.
The tag today is Mick, the general manager of the place. Yeah, I know… “general manager,” a bit high profile. But the gene search pulled his card, all the wires neatly tucked. He’s got what I need, and in a place like this as the only white guy in a run down, bloody stinking shop full of rotting bovine corpses and resentful, underpaid immigrants and Trogs – no one will ever care. And besides, I’m not here to kill him. Hell, his bosses sent me to do the job! Well, they tacitly ok’d it.
The client… well I don’t know the client. When have you ever known a criminal to make contact with his client? Not these days anyway, with the internet and so many aliases. This kind of self obfuscation hasn’t been a problem for decades.
Luckily I find a parking space in the shade. It’s over 100 degrees Farenheit outside – the roadway looks like cracked brimstone, the sky a reddish brown haze, palm trees dotting the sky like something out of a Dr. Seuss book – so if I work this fast and play my cards right I won’t have to break a sweat. Fat chance really, but it’s a nice sentiment. On getting out of the trash truck (hint, it’s not really a trash truck), I instruct Dizzy to prime the anesthetic for a little meat cutting of our own.
Dizzy’s Dominican and he’s my (was my) anesthesiologist I worked side by side with just eight years ago. He works in a county hospital now, City of Angels Medical Center near Echo Park. Sees a lot of Trog meat, and sees a lot of them die because the city will not pay for their sorry asses, especially after the shit they routinely pull like breaking into hospital pharmacies for pain killers and antibiotics for their own illicit medical wards, drug labs, etc. Dizz is light milk chocolate colored and nearly 7 feet tall, with dreds and spindly fingers. He plugs nerves and spins valves so quick they never know what hit them – usually because they’re unconscious on arrival. But I couldn’t do my job without him. And besides, he needs the money, bad, more than I do – which is pretty fuckin’ bad.
The riff-raff on the loading dock moves in loose concert in a black wound spewing volumes of cold air, stinking animal proteins and lipo-solids left discarded and rotting in the corners of this place, getting pissed on, eaten, and shit out by rodents. Yet the ambience is festive as mariachi music plays over a crackling loudspeaker. The workers, youthful and invariably some shade of brown, are loading refrigerated trucks for retail deliveries across the state. I can’t help but notice boxes labeled “meat product,” but which are undoubtedly bundles of cocaine. The workers take scant notice of me as I jump the platform and slide past dressed for the cold inside.
My sneakers splash trough puddles of cow blood on my way across the loading floor through rows of hanging cow carcasses split in half. I pause and light a cigarette, grabbing the lighter from my jeans as the cold meat swings around me squeaking on their metal hooks just waiting to be cut up, ground, fried or roasted, and eaten by those who can afford it. The fag’s first vapors assault my lungs. But I’m so used to it, because the refined nicotine, which is actually narcotic, is just something a working man needs to get through another day in hell.
The radio loudspeaker is blaring news. It’s always spouting some comic bit about gang violence, break ins, drug arrests, and the like. But recently the attacks have become more bold, their targets larger and moves increasingly desperate. Something’s happening and I can feel it. But all the chatter via the whore (sorry, it’s just ONE slang expression that I find extremely funny and useful) and contacts I know are either ignorant or just mum on the subject. However, a few days ago some Trogs broke into a big research facility here in town and stole some “biological agent.” Now LAPD has arrested several gang members in connection with the break in, and it’s got the whole Trog community in an uproar. Even the Mayor, Manuel Gutierrez, is on the press horn just now saying the government can no longer criminalize the 100 million unemployed people seeking cerebral enhancement across the country.
Hmph! “Cerebral Enhancement.” It’s the death knell of human beings as we know them, an unfortunate fact of our current society and never likely to go away. See, what you people have to realize is that you cannot unleash technology, which inevitably assumes more and more of the tasks humans do, AND increase the population, AND expect everybody to remain employed. The ratio of jobs to people will inevitably go down with increased technology, and where’s the benefit? We get to spend more time in online game-worlds but we can’t afford to buy food or even shelter. So much for your Silicon Valley fueled techno-utopia. And the proof is here with us now. By ’09 and ’10 as the automobile industry was collapsing because of its over-capacity and too much competition, and banks and world governments around the world struggled to keep a financial system based on debt afloat, people began losing their jobs in VAST numbers because – surprise – computers and robots began to do so much of the work human beings used to do, like transcribing dictation, harvesting crops, or building consumer electronics and cars. Sustainability became the buzzword at a time when the scale of an unsustainable future had already been tipped. Nearly 7 Billion people on the planet, and already half of them had a hard time finding and keeping a job.
So, hello cerebral enhancement, the only way for a man with a family to compete with a computer. The prospect is daunting, the procedures iffy at best. Your success rate is 30%. And the outcome – even after a successful procedure, and there are dozens depending on what you want augmented; sight, sound, higher calculation speeds, skill sets like talking in another language – is also dubious because you never know if the change is going to hold, reverse, or cause some unforeseen damage like loss of motor function. Trust me, you do not want some nano-scale logic circuit or man-made gene interfering with your bowel control.
Official estimates are 30%, but you know it’s higher. Some say 50% of all people on the planet are “displaced,” meaning they live near, at, or below the poverty line. When a barrel of oil costs over $300, you can bet it’s going to drive up the cost of everything. You think $5.00 for a gallon of gas is something, you don’t know the worst of it. When an 8 ounce glass of water costs $10.00, you’re in for some shit.
Mick’s voice cuts through my little autonomic rant, and I can hear him now on the phone in his office.
“Listen, I don’t give a fuck. You tell Corazon, if he don’t have payroll to me here by six o’clock, I gotta bunch of angry people who are gonna be bangin’ on his door with butcher’s knives.”
I can see him through the glass panel overlooking his office. His pugnacious face is flushed purple. His bulbous nose looks like a plum about to explode. His over-fed torso bends over the phone, stiffening itself for a final blow. The blood on his apron is fresh.
“Well fine then!” He curses, “But when half your inventory goes missing, don’t blame me.”
I can’t suppress a smile. I know for a fact his bosses count on missing inventory. It helps them obfuscate their records whenever the Feds come snooping around. They build the cost into their pricing schemes and it helps justify the runaway inflation of a pound of hamburger to the bankers downtown.
Mick stands, shuffles and looks out the window at me and suddenly looks even more pissed off. I mash the fag in a bloody puddle beneath my shoe, and adjust the bag on my back. As I approach, the door to his office swings open and his balding head and beady eyes poke through.
“What are you doing here? I thought I fucking told you not to come here.”
He pushes me away from the door as is dwarfish body emerges from the office, jangling keys. He turns and locks the door.
“I had it. I figured since I was in the neighborhood I might as well drop by.”
Mick looks nervously through the racks of hanging meat.
“There’s cameras all over the place!” He looks at me sternly then motions toward the Janitor closet. “Over here.”
Mick leads me toward a dimly lit hallway perfectly positioned near a rear exit. The trash truck is parked just outside across the street. Not ideal, but close enough for today.
“These guys control all the gambling in the state… Drugs, prostitution, and hamburger.”
“Why not buy for them?”
Mick turns with a snide expression. “You kiddin? I don’t want that crap.” Keys jangling, he inserts another key into the dull brassy knob and throws open the door revealing a dark cramped room damply smelling of chemical solvents and rat piss.
I step inside, unconcerned about the hazards within, and foist my bag onto a countertop next to a mop sink and a rusty mirror. Mick pulls a string under the light and the room illuminates, all dank, stacked with cleaning buckets and supplies, grimy shelves and a gooey smelly resin oozing at glacier pace toward a drain hole in the floor. Mick closes the door. We’re packed like sardines now and all alone with the damp smells. I reach into my bag, shoving important items out of the way for my lure. It’s in a plastic zip lock bag. I pull it out and set it on the counter, the baby blue powder inside sparkles like ground glass.
“What the hell is that?” Mick protests. “That’s not what I asked for.”
My head spins instinctively toward him with my best drug dealer glare. Mick doesn’t know me and backs down.
“No shit. Wait.” Mick pauses, and I can see his eyes going all lusty. “The new stuff?”
“The hottest selling shit on the street.” I throw open the bag, and produce a spoon from my jacket. Mick takes the spoon and digs greedily into the bag. He brings a mound of the stuff up to his nose and snorts the whole thing in one huff. A quarter second and he reels backward knocking a broom down and clattering against a shelf with empty bottles of who knows what.
“Damn! That’s strong!”
I grab him by the shoulders to help steady him. “That’ll get you through.”
“Tell me about it. Corazon and them guys don’t care about these people. We’re just meat to them. They skip payroll a month, then hire a whole new crew. Nobody fuckin complains.” Mick reaches into the bag again, and snorts another spoonful. He careens one more time, and after gaining his composure reaches into his wallet to pull out two thousand dollars in cash.
I hold up three fingers.
Mick rolls eyes and reaches into his hip pocket for another wad of cash. “You don’t know how hard it is for me, man. I’m an artist, not a butcher.”
“Oh yeah? You paint?”
Mick counts the money as he’s handing it to me. “I write poetry.”
I just nod my head, my mental clock counting the seconds and watching him change color from pale yellow-pink to a flushed blue, watching for the telltale signs of oxygen depletion in his blood.
“You alright?” I ask him.
Mick shudders. He looks up at me. He knows something’s wrong, but there’s nothing he can do as his hands loose their grip and the cash goes spilling everywhere. And I watch his horror, knowing he’s been betrayed by me, terrified of what I might do to him next, yet unable to move as his eyes go blank and he collapses against the door.
I watch him fall and shudder, his great big body jiggling, his head rolling over jowls flapping. Mick’s short, but he’s a big boy, and goddamn it, he’s right on the fucking door. My fingers reach for his carotid, 50 beats per minute and sinking fast.